Man Moves Objects With His Mind Using New Sensor

Adrianne Appel
for National Geographic News
July 12, 2006

A paralyzed man has moved objects through mind power alone, thanks to electrodes implanted in his brain, scientists announced today.

The brain sensor has allowed him to move a computer cursor to open email, grasp candy with a robotic arm, and open and close a prosthetic hand—just by thinking about it.

He also opened email and turned up the volume on a television while engaged in conversation.

The electrodes connect to a computer with software that "translates" brain signals into appropriate movement.

(Related: "Cap Harnesses Human Thought to Move PC Cursor" [December 7, 2004].)

The experiments show that it is possible to capture the language of the brain, reroute that language outside the brain, and then decode the signals into movement commands, according to researchers.

"We're just at the start, just getting off the ground," study co-author John Donoghue said.

Donoghue is a neuroscientist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, Inc., a Salt Lake City, Utah-based company he and his students created. His BrainGate research appears in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature.

Active Brain

Donoghue says he hopes to make the device, called BrainGate, available as early as 2008. Ideally, BrainGate would help people move their limbs to accomplish simple tasks of daily living, like feeding themselves.

"I don't want to give the impression that people will walk—that is very complicated," Donoghue said.

The patient involved in the experiments is a 25-year old man whose spinal cord was severed as a result of a knife wound he received in 2001. He received the implant system in 2004.

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